Mother tongue, Medium of instruction: Myths and facts
Dr. Pratap Naik, S.J.
Thomas Stephens Konknni Kendr
Alto Porvorim, Goa - 403 521
Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (2010) defines mother tongue as "the language that you first learn to speak when you are a child". In Linguistics mother tongue term is not used. Since mother tongue is a misleading concept, linguists prefer to use the term first language. In Goa, pseudo-intellectuals cum educationists, proponents of Devanagari script and handful of people who claim that by their birth of high caste origin, are vociferously advocating the myths they have created around mother tongue, medium of instruction and culture. Let us try to understand why they have created these myths. Myths are efficient and convenient tools to suppress and oppress others, especially people who have no voice. The proponents of these myths do not want marginalized common people and the minority communities of Goa to excel in life. To excel in life, quality of education is really essential. In the twenty-first century, in India quality of education is associated with English. If grants are given to English medium primary schools, children of common people of Goa have an equal opportunity to excel and even supersede students of the high caste origin. The proponents of myths cannot tolerate this naked reality, namely that their progeny will be pushed down from their pedestal of caste hegemony, linguistic and cultural domains. Therefore, they want to continue to dominate the common masses and minority communities with their creative myths. Liars of myths have a creative mind. However they themselves do not believe in the myths they have created! Now let us analyze some of their myths.
Myth number one is that the primary education has to be in the mother tongue of children. Proponents of this myth themselves never studied in their mother tongue! They studied either in Marathi or English. Even their children and grand children are the products of either Marathi or English medium of education. They preach to others what they do not practice themselves! In Goa the vast majority of locals do understand Konknni. Besides Konknni is the Official Language of the State. In this context, Konknni should have been the medium of instruction throughout Goa. But as on 30 September 2008, in Goa there are 936 Marathi medium primary schools of which 888 belong to the government and 48 are run by the private Hindu managements. While there are only 207 Konknni medium primary schools of which 140 belong to the private managements and 67 run by the government. Out of the 140 Konknni medium primary schools, 128 are run by the Catholic community and only six by the Hindu community. Proponents of myths have no courage to say that in Goa, Konknni alone should be given the first priority as the medium of instruction. In the name of mother tongue they perpetuated and want to perpetuate Marathi medium schools in Goa! Taking into consideration the quality of Konknni textbooks, methods of teaching and the competence of teachers it is far better to study either in English or in any other medium except Konknni. Taking into consideration the Konknni textbooks produced for fifth standard onwards, one should totally discourage our children to opt Konknni in Devanagari script as a subject.
Myth number two is the mother tongue is best suited for primary education. If this is true how do we explain the fact that millions of people in the world who have not studied in their mother tongue have excelled in their career. It is true that the dominant language of the household or of the region is used as the medium of instruction, children will learn faster and better. In Goa, in many houses English is spoken as the household language. Day by day the number of such families is increasing. In this context, proponents of education in mother tongue should not oppose or rather admit English as the mother tongue of a section of people of Goa and they have the right to demand English as the medium of instruction to their children. Medium of instruction in any language including English, is no hundred percent guarantee that the children will do well in their studies. The quality of textbooks, teaching methods, adequate training and on going training of teachers, availability of reference books, school environment and many other related factors do contribute to the success of learning. Teaching and learning is not restricted to medium of instruction alone and to school compound.
Myth number three is education at the primary level in mother tongue cultivates love for one's own language, culture and nation. All over India day by day the demand for English medium schools is increasing. Are these people who demand English education for their children are less patriotic than the hypocrites who created the myths for their selfish motives? Let us admit the fact that today in India, a good command over English language is absolutely necessary for academic, technical advancement and for better job opportunities. Since independence, Indian official languages have not succeeded to unite us as Indians. Each language community is proud of its linguistic and territorial identity. But English alone has succeeded to unite us as Indians. If English is abolished or reduced from India, we will not exist as a country! Those who oppose English as the medium of instruction could rightly be called as anti-children, anti-common people and anti-Indians!
Myth number four is studying in Konknni medium will help children to learn Hindi. This is far from the truth. In Karnataka, Kerala, Andra Pradesh and in other states of India, many locals study in their native languages with respective scripts and yet they do learn Hindi. In Goa, those who want to learn Hindi will learn it irrespective of Konknni.
If we admit that basic education is the right of every child then we must also admit that the medium of instruction is the right of the child. If we want our students from Goa to shine at the academic circles in India, at present the only option is quality of education through English medium. Let us not mix up the language of the heart, namely our household language and language of the mind and learning, namely English. Those who care for children and support the rights of children should openly support the demand of their parents to give grants to English medium primary schools.